Defeating the Islamic State was candidate Trump’s top national-security priority, one of the few policy issues on which he was consistent.
While his claim to have a secret plan — and that keeping it secret was good strategy — was risible to national security experts, his policy goals were and are consistent. American effort should focus on fighting the Islamic State. Regime change to push Bashar al-Assad out of power was not only a lesser objective, but counterproductive to a stable end-state for Syria that prevents terrorism and too costly given Russia and Iran’s support for the regime. Stability is to be prioritized over humanitarian relief or democracy promotion. Russia is to be palliated, their interests supported.
He proclaimed that “we are going to convey my top generals and give them a simple instruction. They will have 30 days to submit to the Oval Office a plan for soundly and quickly defeating ISIS.” While strictly speaking that deadline has passed without apparent formal approval, the Departments of State and Defense have indeed been prioritizing defeating the Islamic State. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made his first big international event the gathering of the coalition fighting the Islamic State, reinforcing the president’s twin messages that it is the administration’s top national-security priority, and that “the United States will increase our pressure on ISIS and al Qaeda and will work to establish interim zones of stability, through ceasefires, to allow refugees to return home.”